It’s one of those Texas days where the clouds hang low all morning and the fat beads of sweat drip off your face even though it’s only 80 degrees. Everyone keeps glancing back up at the sky— waiting for the rain to begin pouring.
“It’s gonna rain,” someone pessimistically says.
“Nah, the sun will come out,” the ever optimist said. “I have crawfish to eat.”
“Well, it isn’t coming in my house,” worried host exclaimed.
And with good reason, too. The 90 pounds of live crawfish gave the backyard the stench of a seafood market located in a swamp. The fresh blue crab and shrimp didn’t help either.
“How much more time?” an eager eater asked. I’d seen him put away 15 pounds of crawfish in one sitting before.
“Fifteen minutes,” the pot watcher said. It’s always 15 minutes at whatever time you ask him. He was waiting for the water boil enough to kill the crawfish on contact.
Whole onions, garlic, red potatoes, corncobs, and sausage were being prepped assembly line style on a table covered in newspaper. Tommy lifted the top of the industrial sized pot. I could hear the water bubbling from the heat. A low hissing sound came from the thirty pounds of crawfish being dropped into the water.
“ What’s that?” a kid who had just been playing with crawfish said.
“The crawfish are going for a swim,” his mother told him. In another four “15 more minutes” the potatoes have cooked through, the garlic has turned into paste and crawfish are ready to eat.
All the newbies are relegated to one table. The rest of us need elbow room.
Twist the head off, suck the juices from the head, and then begin removing the meat from the tail. Your reward is the little chunks of meat trapped in the tail. If you were fortunate enough to have crawfish with big enough claws, crack them open with your teeth to eat the meat and juice.
You eat fast at a crawfish boil. There are always nimble-handed scavengers looking to loot from mounds of food. But more importantly, your fingers and your mouth need to move fast to avoid dwelling on what you’re eating. Pause long enough to let the greenish-yellow brain juice rest on your tongue or glance at the feces-filled intestine embedded in the meat and you might tap out first round. The only people who tap out round one are wimps and people who don’t want to be invited for the next boil.
There’s a window of time, late February through May when crawfish boils are packed in to take advantage of the emergence of the mudbugs. A few New Orleans natives share stories about their pre-Katrina lives as we catch our breath from eating 30 pounds of crawfish and wait for the second round. Every Friday was crawfish day in those few months. They wouldn’t bother with the hot pot in the humidity of Louisiana. They would go to a local gas station or shack—after all humble cooking can be the best cooking— and get several pounds already prepared. Sometimes it would make it to the house but most of the time you just ate it right there. Then go home and take a food-induced nap.
It’s not much different sitting in backyard lawn with tables covered in newspaper and pounds of shellfish carcass being tossed in a trashcan. The second round is much slower. There’s more beer sipping to wash down crawfish. At first ignored, onions, corn, mushrooms, sausage and garlic spread onto bread become more appealing. There’s so much us regular folk can take—New Orleans natives are still going strong.
Tapping out after the second round is deemed acceptable. The heat of the spices intensifies by the third round, soaking the crawfish in sniffle and tear inducing flavor. Ten troopers remain around the table.
“That’s not going to feel good later,” someone smirked.
It generally doesn’t.